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       Dangerous Embrace (Embrace #1), p.1

           Dana Mason
Dangerous Embrace (Embrace #1)

  Dangerous Embrace

  Title Page

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty-One

  Chapter Thirty-Two

  Chapter Thirty-Three

  Chapter Thirty-Four

  Chapter Thirty-Five

  Chapter Thirty-Six

  Chapter Thirty-Seven

  Chapter Thirty-Eight

  Chapter Thirty-Nine



  Copyright © 2012 Dana Mason

  All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior permission of the publisher.

  Sapphire Star Publishing


  First Sapphire Star Publishing edition, October 2012

  The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Names, characters, places, and plots are a product of the author’s imagination. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

  ISBN: 978-1-938404-24-5

  Cover Image by Shoots

  68 80 71 82 79 85 80 32 69 88 67 76 85 83 73 86 69


  Jim, you are my home.


  I want to thank my family, Jim, Lizzie, Kaitlin and Trevor—you have been so patient and understanding. Thank you for sharing this with me. I love you and the support you’ve given me. Please remember, dreams do come true—promise to never give up on what you really want.

  Thank you to my extended family and friends who have sent countless tweets and shared countless posts on Facebook. I’ll never forget the support you’ve given me.

  Jennifer, you are not only a friend but a sister. Thank you for keeping it real and keeping me grounded. Honesty is the mark of a true friend.

  Michelle, you have had a stand-out role in all of the most important days of my life, including this one. I love you. Thank you for always being there for me.

  Natasha Alexander, thank you for sticking around when I needed a friend who understands what this truly means to a writer.

  Jenny, Kelley, Lani, Jason and Darlene, you’ve been fabulous cheerleaders. Thank you for all the enthusiasm and support.

  Valerie Neumark, thank you for sharing your talent and time. Thank you for caring and for the support you have shown. Thank you for pushing me to want more.

  To all of my parents, thank you for teaching me the values that get me through every day. You have each had a role in showing me the importance of loyalty, resilience, resourcefulness, and most important, the ability to laugh at myself.

  To Amy and Katie at Sapphire Star Publishing, thank you for caring about this story as much as I do. Your dedication and attention has meant so much to me. Thank you for painstakingly walking me through the editing and publication process. I couldn’t imagine doing this without you.

  I must also thank the Vaca Arts Council for welcoming me into their family and for all the support they’ve shown.

  Chapter One

  The sky was on fire. At least, Sarah Jennings thought the orange glow resembled fire when she stepped out of the double, glass doors of Oakbrook Elementary School. Even with fire in the sky, the deserted school grounds were too dark for her taste.

  She hated being the last teacher to leave. How stupid of her not to check the time, but she couldn’t refuse when parents showed up unannounced at her classroom door. Not even when it got her behind. It’d been a shock to see Noah’s mom and dad together. Especially knowing they were going through a terrible divorce. Noah looked more shell-shocked and withdrawn every day since school had started. Of course she put everything on hold to give them her undivided attention. She’d hoped this was a sign they were going to make him a priority and stop the petty fighting.

  Sarah’s eyes scanned the grounds again before turning toward the parking lot. She kept her pace normal. She wouldn’t let old fear push her to run to her car like a coward. She wasn’t in the city anymore. This neighborhood was safe and quiet, and she needed to just breathe through it and move ahead.

  In college, the dark, foggy San Francisco nights left her in a constant state of fear. Always afraid she’d been found, running through parking garages, looking for stalkers hidden in shadowed corners. She wouldn’t live like that now. It’d been too long, and she’d given up too much already.

  Sarah gripped the purse on her shoulder and turned toward the ramp leading to the parking lot.

  The school sat on a hillside, and the walkway connected the school grounds with the teachers’ lot. A waist-high, metal handrail bordered the elevated ramp with a ten-foot drop down to a gravel hillside.

  Sarah started across, but stopped when a tingling sensation attacked her scalp. She waited and listened, her pulse a little quicker than a few minutes ago. That’s when she heard running footsteps.

  She looked up and met his eyes, a sick smile spread across his face. Fear dripped down her spine like a drop of cold water, and she knew she was in trouble. He moved fast considering his bulk, and as he got closer, his piercing glare became more menacing.

  Sarah froze.

  Breath caught in her throat and her body wouldn’t react to the fear. She’d always been a deer in the headlights type of person, and now she’d been caught off guard.

  His shoulder slammed her chest, sending her against the metal handrail. He gripped her knees and lifted, sending her toppling backwards. She reached out for the rail too late. Her world turned upside and she couldn’t grasp anything to prevent the fall.


  Sarah wasn’t sure what brought her out of the unconscious state. It could have been his weight pressing down on her, or his clammy hands touching her, or the sound of her skirt being ripped open.

  No...she didn’t feel any of that. Panic left her paralyzed and numb. She didn’t feel his hot mouth when he licked and bit her breasts. She watched the scene play out like a film instead. Her mind too distant, too frightened to allow her to feel anything.

  Sarah couldn’t say which hurt worse, watching or feeling.

  One of her arms lay twisted unnaturally at her side, the other restrained above her head, but she didn’t fight.

  She didn’t move.

  Tears ran down her face and quiet whimpers escaped her lips. This was wrong—she was wrong for not fighting. She could not let another man break her.

  “No!” Not again—she was stronger, more powerful now and would not lose herself again.

  His nails scratched and clawed at her, ripping her panties off, the material cutting her skin when he yanked them away.

  “No!” she screamed again as her senses came back to life. Now she felt every injury, from
her twisted arm, to the burning cuts up her back. His whiskey and cigarette breath wafted into her nose, and she had to swallow back the bile that collected in her throat.

  “Get off me!” She grunted and kicked out, arching to throw him off. Adrenalin pushed her body into overdrive, thrusting her heart to a manic pace. She lifted up again, kicking with her bare feet at anything within reach.

  He shifted, sliding one leg between her knees and the other over her right leg, relieving some of the pressure on her body. She inhaled a gasping breath, but when he punched his fingers between her thighs, her panic spiked.

  Oh God, no! She could feel him—his fingers, his hand—forcing her thighs apart. She kicked off hard, arching again to push him off.

  When he teetered sideways, she rammed her knee into his groin. He cursed and withdrew his hands to grab himself.

  With her right hand free, she hit and flailed at his face, scratching, pushing, and smacking him everywhere.

  She jerked and tried to scoot away, fighting to get free. She managed to get one leg out from under him. She lifted it and came down on his hip with her heel over and over as hard as she could.

  The attacker tried to scramble back over her, but she kept kicking and pushing with her free foot, landing several blows to his lower back and hip. She continued to fight, screaming with each blow.

  “No—get off me!”

  Her vision tainted red, her jaw clenched like a vice, and her pulse pounded like a base drum in her ears. Sarah kicked out again with all her power, while using her uninjured hand to push until he was off her.

  With her legs free, Sarah lifted up and kicked out, putting her weight behind the kick. He cried out this time as he reached for his lower back. She jolted upright and jumped up, the gravel pinching her bare feet.

  As she gained her balance, he grabbed her injured arm and tried to pull her back down. Pain almost forced her surrender, but Sarah fisted her right hand and plunged it into his face. She felt the crack. When she pulled her fist away, blood gushed from his nose.

  She took off running into the darkness without looking back. Her feet pounded harder and harder, letting the distance grow between her and her attacker.

  The air was knocked from her lungs when she plowed into him. He felt more like a brick wall than a person, until she knocked them both off their feet. His arms came around her as they skidded to the pavement together. They hit the ground, but she only felt his secure grip.

  She fought hard again. Punching at his chest and pushing with her uninjured hand, but his words made her stop.

  “Hey, hey, you okay?”

  Despite the concern in his voice, her panic spiked again.

  He loosened his grip when Sarah pushed away.

  “It’s okay,” he said, and in the glow of the streetlight, she found a pair of intense, blue eyes staring back at her.

  A scream bubbled in the back of her throat, and her entire body vibrated with fear. He said something again, but she couldn’t hear him over her own cries.

  “Where is he?” She finally heard when their eyes locked on each other’s again.

  Her breath came out in gasps. She shook her head and began to sob.

  The man holding her, shifted and placed her on the concrete next to him. Sarah felt hands on her shoulders and jumped, ready to fight again.

  “It’s okay,” a woman’s voice said, soft and hesitant.

  “Mom, help her.” The man got to his feet. “I’ll be right back. Here’s my phone, call 911.” He pulled off his jacket and laid it over Sarah’s shoulders.

  The woman reached out for him. “No, Mark, don’t—“

  “I’ll be right back,” he said, and rushed into the dark in the direction Sarah had come.

  Sarah hugged herself and dropped her head, trying to breathe. When the jacket fell off her shoulder, she looked down at her ripped clothes just as her vision narrowed into a dark tunnel.

  Chapter Two

  Sarah pried open her heavy eyelids and turned, trying to focus on the clock.

  “Ow, dammit!” She clenched her teeth and looked down at the sling tied to her arm. The smothering realization pressed on her chest. When the nausea hit, she flung the covers off and rushed to the bathroom, fighting to get to the toilet before her stomach heaved.

  When the painful dry heaving stopped, she lay back on the cold tile floor, exhausted, and waited for the room to stop spinning. Her ragged breaths roared in her ears and seemed to echo in the quiet room. When her breathing slowed, the silence ebbed around her in waves, but when footsteps approached the bathroom door, she tensed again.

  A bead of sweat dripped down her scalp, and at the same time someone tapped at the door. Her pulse spiked, and she fought like hell to remember who brought her home from the hospital.

  She closed her eyes.

  “Who’s there?” The waver in her voice pissed her off. Gawd—please don’t let me be pathetic in front of whoever this is.

  A hesitant and completely unfamiliar man’s voice said, “Are you all right? Do you need something?”

  Sarah sucked in a hard breath. “Um...” She exhaled slowly. “Who are you?”

  “Mark Summors.”

  She stiffened and tried to sit up.

  “Do I know you?” she asked, her voice pitching.

  “I can explain if you open the door.”

  She steadied herself against the bathtub. The sling had slipped up her arm, exposing the trail of bruises. She swallowed another wave of nausea and tried to put the pieces together. Mark Summors?

  She glanced around for something to use as a weapon just in case. Then she wanted to laugh—and cry. Who the hell was she kidding? She rolled her eyes. Good plan, Sarah, take on a strange guy with a toilet brush.

  “Can I come in?” His voice was muffled as if he was resting his face against the door.

  “Go ahead.” She clamped her mouth closed to suppress a shiver and mumbled, “It’s unlocked.”

  The door eased open and a cup of water shot out at her.

  “Oh, thank you,” she cried out, relieved to wash the disgusting film out of her mouth. She snatched the cup out of his hand and gulped it, letting her eyes lift above the rim to see his face.

  “Ah.” Sarah choked and inhaled the water. She set the cup down, almost upending it as she dropped it.

  “Oh my God!” She would never forget those intense, blue eyes, just like she would never forget the smell of her attacker’s breath. They were all thrown together in the same horrifying memory.

  He waved in surrender, his eyebrows drawn together. “I’m sorry...I’ll explain, but you have to calm down.”

  She shook her head, still coughing. “Don’t tell me to calm down. Why are you here, in my house...”

  “You didn’t have an emergency contact, and I couldn’t leave you alone.”

  She cleared her throat. “Since when—what time is it?”

  “My mom and I brought you home from the hospital at about three this morning.”

  “Three o’clock—what time is it now?”

  He glanced at his watch. “Almost midnight.”

  She rubbed at her throat. “So, it’s Saturday...Sunday?”

  “It’ll be Sunday in ten minutes. You slept through Saturday. Do you want help getting off the floor?” He held his hand out for her.

  She looked at his face, and then his hand. “Ah, thanks, but I can manage on my own.”

  He backed up a step as Sarah tried to push herself up.

  When she winced, he stepped forward and reached out for her. She jerked away and fell back against the tub. Heat rushed her cheeks, and she couldn’t take her eyes off the floor to look at him again. She hugged herself, trying to stop the fluttering spasms taking over her body.

  Mark stepped back, mumbling an apology. “I’ll just...give you some privacy.”

  She watched his feet inch back out of the room. “Thanks.”

  With her good hand, she braced herself against the edge of the bathtub and lifted up o
ff the floor.

  She closed the door and looked in the mirror. What a mess. Besides the bruises on her arms, her left shoulder was black from the top of her elbow to the base of her neck, and it hurt like hell. The sight was cringeworthy for sure. If it didn’t hurt so much, she would’ve thought someone painted it on. The tenderness made it impossible to touch, and beyond the bruising, fine, red scratches covered one side of her face and neck.

  Bruises also colored her cheekbones, the black and purple standing out against her pale skin. She reached up and picked a twig out of one of her curls. With a quickened pulse, she ran a finger along the angry scratch that traveled her jaw and remembered waking up in the bushes.

  Sleeping for an entire day didn’t make this less real. It had not been a bad dream. The bubble of safety she’d envision around her had burst. How did this keep happening? For some reason she’d thought a stranger attack would be less painful, but she never imagined she’d have the opportunity to compare.

  She shook off the anxiety and took a deep breath, then gingerly took off the sling and slipped on her robe. Before tying the front, she stopped and plucked at the hem of her tank top. Uh—how?

  Think, Sarah, how did you get inside the house? How did you change your clothes? She remembered Mark helping her out of the car, but nothing else.

  Sarah crept to the side of her bed, looking for her slippers. Sitting on the tiled bathroom floor had made her body rigid with cold, and now every injury throbbed as she inched through her bedroom.

  The aroma of fresh brewed coffee drifted in.

  “Oh thank God,” she whispered, following the scent. She hobbled out of her bedroom through the living room, toward the kitchen where Mark sat waiting and the coffee pot percolated softly.

  She looked at the unfinished coffee. “Thank you.”

  “I wasn’t sure you would want coffee, but I thought just in case...” He shrugged his shoulders, making his uneasiness known.

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